Friday 11th November, 2016
Across the UK many are experiencing the first frost of the season, signalling that Autumn is almost over and we can expect misty mornings and dark evenings from here on in. While the novelty of woolly hats and fleece-lined boots may seem appealing as you sip hot chocolate on the yard, there are some aspects of horse care that you need to be aware of, so here we have the ultimate horse owners guide to surviving winter.
Even with lights and reflective safety gear, hacking out can be downright dangerous when nightfall is fast approaching, so unless you have access to a floodlit arena or ménage, the chances are you will be riding your horse far less over the winter months. Evaluate your current exercise regime and decide what you can feasibly achieve, then contact a nearby yard owner to see if you could hire their all-weather surface for an hour a week to keep on top of your schooling. If you do hack out make sure you are fully kitted out in head to toe reflective vests, boots and blankets for optimum visibility. Sub-zero temperatures can render the roads almost impassable for horses with regular shoes, so make sure you opt for road studs to provide greater traction on slippery surfaces.
Due to the restricted exercise your horse will be having in the cooler temperatures, you will need to feed him a lot less calories for energy. Most horses have little or no oats or cool mix over the winter, however your horse will burn more calories to stay warm therefore will still require a good feed. Switch the concentrates for molasses for palatability and provide plenty of forage in the form of alfalfa, haylage or hay which is a great source of calories.
You may feel bad turning your horse out on a cold winters day, but they will fare far better out in the field where they can move freely than they will stood in a stable. Turned out horses avoid stiff joints and loss of condition, plus they have the option to socialise with field mates and graze naturally. Invest in a good quality mobile field shelter to protect them from the elements so that you can give your horse some much needed freedom in the field this winter.
True enough, you cannot control the weather, but you can control whether or not your horses water is frozen. Horses need access to fresh drinking water 24 hours a day, so make sure that any troughs and water buckets are kept ice free with a float or ball. Horses that are not well hydrated can develop impaction colic, and those that ingest snow and ice could fall victim to spasmodic colic, so don’t run the risk of an unwell equine and an expensive vets bill.
It can be oh so tempting to wrap your horse with layer upon layer when the frost sets in, especially if he is turned out for the majority of the time. However, horse owners need to drop the guilt and trust in the fact that our four legged friends are actually designed to withstand extreme temperatures. If your horse is elderly or clipped, then he will definitely benefit from rugs and blankets whether he is indoors or outdoors, but most horses will winter just fine with their natural thick coat and a decent New Zealand rug in wet weather.